A big part of employee engagement is professional development; employees are more invested in an organisation that they believe is concerned about their growth and provides avenues to reach individual career goals. The challenge however for many organisations, is that professional development – especially in 2022 – looks different to different employees. Even in a survey conducted by Design & Build, some of our database considered a promotion or salary raise as the symbol of career progression, while others believed it was having the opportunity to learn new skills.
We examine the balancing act organisations have to manage in order to satisfy current and prospective employees and what steps they can take to help to nurture the professional development of employees, no matter the diversity of their needs.
It’s important to remember that professional development isn't only about optimising an individual’s skill set for the particular role they’re currently in. Instead, career progression takes a more comprehensive approach to an employee's long-term career and the continued learning that's required to nurture each employee and help them achieve their career goals (Heinz, 2022).
A common misconception is that professional development is the sole responsibility of the individual employee and while it’s true that each employee will ultimately be responsible for driving their own learning and deciding on the opportunities they want, it is also to an organisation’s benefit to encourage and facilitate professional development opportunities (either through formal training, mentorships, promotion opportunities etc.) Not only does it help ensure that your organisation continues to evolve in accordance with industry trends and best practices (because your talent does) but it improves staff retention, employee satisfaction and helps to attract further talent to the organisation.
Numerous studies have shown that organisations that offer growth opportunities are talent magnets. The HR platform TINYpulse conducted a recent study that revealed that employees who felt like they were progressing in their career were 20% more likely to still be working at their companies in one year’s time. While employees who don’t feel supported in their professional goals are 3x more likely to be looking for a new job (TINYpulse, 2018). Even in our own surveys conducted with our database, 91.38% of respondents listed professional development as their top priority when looking for a new job.
While most organisations see the value in professional development and offering career support to their employees, the challenge lies in how to effectively provide this to employees. Obviously, development needs and wants will differ for each employee and especially in 2022, the expectations of what organisations can offer their staff has changed significantly since before the pandemic.
In Design and Build’s most recent survey 36% of respondents (the majority) considered career advancement to mean acquiring new skills. However, 30% of respondents considered career advancement to mean a salary increase, while 22% of respondents thought it meant a promotion. Interestingly 12% of respondents considered career advancement to mean a new job.
Furthermore, the pandemic has shifted employee priorities overall. Having so many of people’s freedoms and nice-to-haves in life (travel, social gatherings, even working out at the gym) stripped back due to covid and social distancing has made people reconsider what they want from their workplaces. There’s now pressure for organisations to employ a ‘people first’ approach. One that shows appreciation for employees and recognises the values and achievements they make for the greater organisation (Ponomareva, 2021).
For organisations, this means being able to provide and include a number of professional development initiatives within their HR strategy, in order to resonate effectively with their current and prospective employees and demonstrate their value to the greater team.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to career development, the Harvard Business School have provided some key foundations organistions can employ to develop an effective strategy that will not only reward employees for their hard work but help motivate them to move and develop their career...ideally within the organisation (Carnahan, 2021).
Open Lines of Communication
First and foremost, all discussions about career goals and potential possibilities shouldn’t just be limited to annual reviews. It’s important that open and transparent conversations about career opportunities are established from the beginning of an employee’s lifecycle and occur with the relevant stakeholders at regular intervals. This could look like a quarterly catch up between managers and their reports where they discuss what the employee needs to accomplish over the next 3 months, review their progress and establish what skills/knowledge they might need to acquire in order to achieve these goals.
Career conversations will be much more efficient when managers understand their employees overarching motivations for choosing their particular career goals. Do they want to become a manager because they really enjoy people management, or do they want to become a specialist in their particular field? Or alternately, do they actually see themselves moving to another department (perhaps marketing) as they find the work they do more interesting? Knowing what employees are hoping to get out of a role, is the key to providing them with effective support and relevant assignments/projects that will develop the necessary skills they require.
It will also reveal when it’s time for an employee to move on to something that will make them happier (if that's the case), and thus help the organisation’s relationship with that employee end on good terms.
After examining employees' motivators, it’s important to then hone in on their strengths; helping employees to recognise what they have a natural talent for within their role and how they can do more of it. Because chances are that the tasks that employees are the strongest/best at are also the tasks they enjoy doing the most, and thus performing these tasks will lead to engagement and overall job satisfaction.
In order to pinpoint an employee’s strengths, managers should conduct assessments with their team members. These can be psychological or maybe more specific to their skill. For example auditing and other accounting specialisms require employees to regularly undertake and pass training courses throughout their career. They can then go through the results with each team member individually, highlighting the areas each employee performed well in.
Managers can also help employees see themselves the way they see them through regular conversations and catch-ups. For example, saying something to a team member like “I’ve noticed that you tend to enjoy really creative work when a project is not defined and you’re able to come up with something on your own, so let’s think about ways we can play to those strengths.”
Stretch projects are additional projects that showcase an employee’s skills that are relevant to a particular role or promotion they want and consequently prove they have what it takes. For managers, it’s important to demonstrate to their employees how they can best apply their strengths and motivators to complete these stretch projects successfully. In doing so, it will give the employee in question additional responsibility, exposure to things outside their current job description and the relevant experience that will help ease the transition into the next stage of their career.
The only challenge with stretch projects is that they can’t overshadow an employee’s full-time job. Stretch projects are considered additional responsibilities outside of an employee’s current position. Consequently the employee needs to understand their obligation first and foremost is to their current role and team and that growing their skills come second. However, if an employee is motivated and good at their job, they’ll figure out a way to do both.
Establishing Transparent Paths To Success
Another important step in an organisation’s professional development strategy is to have specific and transparent criteria and metrics for progressing to the next level or band within their career. For example, within commercial construction, an organisation should establish the skills and experience level a Construction Manager must be proficient in before they can progress to a Project Manager. This criteria can then be shared and discussed with Construction Managers within the company looking to progress, and their managers can work with them on the ways they can meet these criteria and what skills they will need to develop. By doing this, employees can better manage expectations around promotions and have a better understanding of what it will take to achieve their particular career goals. It can also minimise confusion and disappointment if they aren’t progressing at the rate they’d like to.
 Heinz, K. (2022). 6 Reasons Why Employee Development Is Key. Builtin. Retrieved from: https://builtin.com/company-culture/employee-development
 TINYpulse. (2018). Employee Retention Report. TINYPulse. Retrieved from: https://www.tinypulse.com/hubfs/2018%20Employee%20Retention%20Report.pdf
 Ponomareva, N. (2021). Five Major Employee Engagement Trends For 2022. New Horizons. Retrieved from: https://nhglobalpartners.com/employee-engagement-trends/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20biggest%20employee,accelerate%20to%20meet%20their%20needs.
 Carnahan. (2021). How To Support Your Employees’ Career Development. Harvard Business School. Retrieved from: https://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/insights-and-advice/blog/post/how-to-support-your-employees-career-development